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On Christian Unity in England and Wales

Interview With Monsignor Andrew Faley

ROME, JAN. 24, 2007 (Zenit) - The meeting last November between Benedict XVI and the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury was a reminder that we must make efforts to understand one another, says a British priest working for Christian unity.

Monsignor Andrew Faley, the assistant general secretary of the Catholic bishops' conference of England and Wales, made this observation in an interview with us.

He discussed his own experience at the visit of Archbishop Rowan Williams to the Vatican.

Q: How would you describe the present state of the relationship between Catholics and Anglicans at the local level in England and Wales?

Monsignor Faley: The relationship between Catholics and Anglicans locally are generally very good because of the common source of the understanding of Church and a very close affection for liturgy, prayer and worship.

The two cooperate as much as they would with other Christian traditions in supporting local community projects towards the poor, the housebound, the elderly, the sick, those without homes and families who find themselves in difficult circumstances. They are very supportive of one another in that regard.

I think the work of the Association of Interchurch Families, particularly with regard to Catholics and Anglicans who have married and are bringing up their children through the richness of both traditions, is a wonderful example of close cooperation between the two communions and the great fruits borne from such cooperation, notwithstanding the difficulties that we still face with regard to intercommunion.

Q: What is your overall impression of the visit of the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to Rome? What do you think is a possible fruit of this meeting for ecumenism?

Monsignor Faley: During the week of the archbishop's visit to the Holy See and to the Holy Father, I accompanied the archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, as his chaplain. The cardinal was there as a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, but also as a very close friend and dear brother of the archbishop of Canterbury.

It was a very affectionate and warm visit, and was very clear that the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, and the archbishop, Rowan Williams, recognized a common source of vocation and ministry as bishops, which was very well received and celebrated, particularly in the various ecumenical activities during the week. These gave a very helpful message of deep unity and understanding that clearly exists between both the Anglican and Catholic communions.

In Rome and particularly, in the Holy See, the special relationship that there is between the Catholic Church in England and Wales and the Church of England was also recognized.

The Holy See relies quite a bit on the ways in which our bishops cooperate with the Church of England bishops in order to understand the nature, purpose and direction that the Church of England is taking and has taken in previous years.

The cardinal has a very particular role to play in that regard, particularly concerning the relationship between the Church of England and the Catholic Church in England and Wales. That's not at all to try and avoid the difficulties and problems that still remain in terms of full unity, notwithstanding the Anglican Communion's decisions as it moves toward the possible ordination of women as bishops.

The richest fruit was the celebration of a common heritage and deep respect for each other's traditions. For ecumenism, generally, it was a reminder to all of us that we must make efforts to understand the other and not to take for granted how we do understand the Christian from the other tradition.

We need to live with them, as well as pray, study and talk with one another. We can't do one without the other and I think it's very much wrapped up in Cardinal Kasper's promotion of spiritual ecumenism as a very good way forward. Quite specifically, it did come out from the meeting between the Holy Father and the archbishop of Canterbury that this particular fruit of closer, more spiritual cooperation ecumenically is a good thing and is to be promoted.

Q: What was the response of the Anglican Church in England to the visit between the heads of the two Churches? How did British media cover the event?

Monsignor Faley: Although in Rome it was covered quite well and generally in Europe -- as far I'm aware -- it was covered reasonably well, in England, it was hardly covered at all. I don't think it would have grabbed headlines exactly, but it didn't receive any real space.

The response of the Anglican Church in England to the visit between the two heads has been muted, probably because in most people's minds in England the preoccupation of the problems that face the Anglican Church is very worrying. The archbishop's visit to the Holy See, although he went as the head of the Anglican Communion, didn't make that much impression on people in England because it didn't affect them; it didn't make any difference to them really. For that reason, we couldn't do that much to promote it.

Q: Given the historical ties between British society and the Anglican Church, do particular obstacles present themselves to ecumenical Catholic-Anglican dialogue? Does the speed at which Catholic-Anglican relations progress differ from country to country? Do you think that the long history of England's persecution of the Catholic Church presents a particularly difficult hurdle to overcome?

Monsignor Faley: I don't think that there's a great preoccupation in England these days around the whole business of the Anglican Church being the established church or its historical ties with British society because British society has changed so rapidly over the last five, 10 years. I'm not saying that that the Anglican Church should disestablish. It's something that the Anglican Church may well move towards in its own time and for its own reasons.

The particular obstacles, in terms of Catholic-Anglican dialogue in England are more to do with the way in which the Anglican Church makes its decisions, which are not particularly helped by its process through synod, a very parliamentary process and structure, in English terms.

The ecclesiology that underpins how the House of Bishops in the Church of England actually operates is very, very limited because they generally don't meet, other than as a House of Bishops within the synod structure.

There are things to be learned ecclesially and collegially for the Anglican bishops from the Catholic bishops' very strong sense of collegiality within England and Wales.

That was recognized very much in the wonderful meeting we had in November, the first such meeting between the Anglican House of Bishops and the Bishops Conference of England and Wales.

It was a remarkable meeting because it happened to mix again the elements of prayer, worship, not Eucharistic, based on morning and evening prayer, the opportunity to eat and also, to have some very serious and deep discussions between the bishops about what issues face them as Christian leaders in British society today and how they are involved in cooperating to meet the challenges of modern society.

Q: The Pastoral Provision of the Catholic Church opened the doors for the possible ordination of married Anglican clergymen as Catholic priests. What impact has it had on the Catholic Church in England and Wales and on ecumenical dialogue?

Monsignor Faley: We are now some 15 or so years on since the first approaches were made from Anglican clergymen, both married and celibate, to the Catholic Church, first of all to become Catholics and secondly, to be considered for holy orders. The bishops have begun to do a very helpful piece of reflection on the practice and development in the reception of such men who wish to be considered as Catholic priests.

It's had a very good impact on the Catholic Church in that most of the candidates who have been received, formed and ordained, who were former Anglican clergymen, have brought a huge wealth of pastoral sensitivity, experience and wisdom into the Catholic Church from their own time, be that long or short, as Anglican priests. As such we would miss them now hugely if they were suddenly to disappear.

At a deeper level, an impact might be along these lines: The reasons that former Anglican clergy made their decision to become Catholics, first of all, and then, to apply for selection, formation and ordination as Catholic priests has made people more aware of the tensions within the Anglican Church as to whether it is Protestant or Catholic.

The bishops were always aware that it wasn't a good enough reason for a man who was a former Anglican, became Catholic and wished to be considered for the Catholic priesthood, to do so because he didn't approve of women as priests. That's not the issue.

The issue is clearly to do with what it means to belong to the universal church and the decisions made within a particular church, in this case, the Anglican Church, to ordain women to the priesthood.

That decision is much more deeply engrained as a reason for the deeper reflection that it stirred in Catholics, Anglicans and other Christians as to what it means to belong to a Church that believes itself to be universal, in communion through the bishops with the Holy Father as the first among equals.

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Keywords

Unity, England, Wales, Christian, Faley, Anglicans, Catholics

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